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Data is in, that is for sure. Keynotes and breakout sessions on data a gogo here @SxSWi. And, while everyone seems to agree that data is important, the why and how are still being heavily disputed. One section is all about Big Data, gathering as much data as humanly possible. Another –quickly growing- fraction states that selective data that fits your purpose well is more than well enough.  This resulted in some hilarious verbal fights in panels and on Twitter.

Here is a nice example: on the right uppercut ‘It’s not about the size of your data, it is what you do with it’, came a prompt left hook back, right on the jaw: ‘only small sized data people say that’.  Oh, data geeks, they get all passionate :-).

What is clear is that the old pain of PR, marketing and media practitioners on the ability to calculate results and return on investment on their digital and social media endeavours is quickly being mended.  Especially now that more and more agencies and their clients are rolling out digital and social campaigns at larger scale, a thorough statistical analysis of content and program performance, audience behaviour, conversation quality and tone of voice can yield invaluable insights that are primordial in the further adjustment of outreach efforts. Engagement with online audiences, without pairing it with good data is flying blind.

If big data is too big, how big must the data be to still be efficient? The old farmers wisdom of ‘good is good enough’  is an excellent rule of thumb.

– First of all, make sure you are clear about your business objectives. What is it you want to achieve? Put clear brick and mortar numbers on that: units you want to ship, percentage of growth, etc.  If all is good, your outreach campaign, ranging from creative, media buying, audience influencing, PR and online will be tailored to achieve those objectives. If not, call 911.

– Measuring is cutting the fat. Focus. Focus on what is relevant. Instead of paying huge dollars for a fat one-size-fits all data collection system, focus on only those things that enable you to measure if your approach to your audience is the right one. Are you moving the needle?

– Make sure that your metrics are matched to your precious objectives –  it’s completely stupid to  measure share of voice if you’re looking to increase the knowledge of the audience on your CSR program for instance. Or measuring reach, if what you really want to know is if they click through to your online webshop .

– Let the numbers talk. The data should be processed in a scientific way. Know what the numbers mean, and that means asking for the numbers first, before you listen to what your staff or external consultants make of it.  Challenge conclusions you feel are not in line with the numbers, and downright refute everything that is based on hot air, rather than on deeply rooted data.  Analysing data that reflect on your business is not storytelling. It is science.

– Learn from the numbers, and do it quickly. Online campaigns, digital and social media are generally still running when the first data come in. Learn, and adapt. Social media and digital is about micro adjusting, aiming for perfect performance. The ability to quickly catch the data, and turn it into actionable intelligence is key.

– Always walk the dog back by its tail: are the numbers allowing you to measure progress on your business objectives? If not, start over. Don’t keep a system in place that does not help you move the needle at the very heart of your organisation.

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